The best medicine is a healthy lifestyle

April 12, 2022

Primary Care Wellness Healthy Aging
Young cheerful woman by the lake enjoying nature

What’s the first thing you think of when it comes to treating an illness or disease? Chances are you thought of some type of medicine – or maybe even a procedure. After all, that’s the history of visiting the doctor. We go and tell them what’s bothering us and, sometimes, we walk out with a new prescription.

And while medication, therapies and procedures are very important in managing and maintaining good health, a new approach is gaining steam.

Lifestyle medicine. 

This approach takes the research and science we know to be true about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and applies it to your daily life. 

“Lifestyle medicine looks first at the behaviors you can change to help prevent serious health conditions, like high blood pressure, obesity or even diabetes,” explains Brandy L. Washburn, a Family Nurse Practitioner at Riverside Elizabeth Lakes Family Practice.

Here, Ms. Washburn describes lifestyle medicine and how it can help you.

Pillars of lifestyle medicine

The phrase “a healthy lifestyle” can be a bit vague. Lifestyle medicine follows six specific pillars and offers up actionable advice to help you make healthy choices that lead to a lasting lifestyle. 

Healthful eating

Lifestyle medicine doctors recommend a whole-food, plant-based diet. This includes unprocessed or minimally processed foods and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. 

“Lifestyle medicine takes the approach that food is medicine,” explains Ms. Washburn. “Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts and seeds.” 

The best part is that it’s not an all or nothing approach to eating well. Focus instead of making most (at least 95%) of your diet tasty, healthful foods. 

Physical activity

Good health doesn’t just happen because of exercise. Lifestyle medicine focuses on getting you moving all day long – including during everyday chores like laundry, dishes and gardening. This keeps your body active and not sedentary, which is harmful to your overall health. 

In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that physical inactivity is a leading cause of disease and disability.

Stress management

We all get stressed from time to time. But if we don’t take steps to manage that stress, it can lead to serious health conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. 

Lifestyle medicine focuses on helping you relieve and manage stress before it becomes a problem, explains Ms. Washburn. Your provider will discuss ways to help you effectively manage stress, such as exercise, meditation or talking to a behavioral health specialist.

Substance abuse

Tobacco, alcohol and drug use can increase your risk of different types of cancer, heart disease and other serious conditions. Your doctor can help connect you to the resources and support you need to stop smoking, abusing alcohol or using drugs – without any judgment.  

Sleep

Adults need anywhere from about 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. Not getting enough shut-eye can lead to serious health problems – including anxiety, depression, heart disease and obesity. Lifestyle medicine helps you build the healthy sleep habits you need to stay well – and looks to address any underlying medical condition that may be keeping you up at night.

Relationships

Did you know that friendships are good for your health? Your social connections can lead to emotional resiliency and support your mental and physical wellbeing. One sobering study found that loneliness in adults over the age of 50 can lead to an increased risk of premature death, dementia, stroke and other serious health conditions.

Your doctor can help connect you with groups and resources to help you build and maintain positive relationships that feed your body, mind and spirit.

A whole-person approach to your health and wellness

Lifestyle medicine, while a new term, isn’t really anything new or innovative. It’s simply putting evidence-based guidelines and steps in place to help your doctor guide you to positive, healthy and lasting habits. 

If you’re interested in learning more about lifestyle medicine, schedule an appointment with Ms. Washburn or your primary care doctor. 

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